Friday, February 15, 2008

Nihil permanens sub sole

The Holy Father's recent encyclical, Spe salvi, highlights the disillusion of man today. The confusion of philosophy, the moral anarchy and the prevailing Machiavellian political atmosphere all have their root in the rejection of God, the source of perfection; human utopias can only be as good as the men that comprise them. For a perfect world we need Christ, perfect man and perfect God; perfect in suffering. Christ is the perfection of Passion: Hope in suffering: Joy in certain knowledge of God the Father and complete confidence in Him within the world. This is true hope, hope in truth, which courageously faces the evil and defects of the world with goodness and honesty, with love and mercy. Outside of this attitude of Christ man has no hope! Let us propose a reflection on the limits of our world so as to highlight the need for God, as a transposition of the Holy Father's theme.

In his reflections on the 2006 Valencia visit under the theme of marriage and the family, the Holy Father indicates the demographic crisis in Europe as a crisis of moral orientation in parents. "...[T]he problem of Europe, which it seems no longer wants to have children, penetrated my soul. To foreigners this Europe seems to be tired, indeed, it seems to be wishing to take its leave of history. Why are things like this? This is the great question. The answers are undoubtedly very complex. Before seeking these answers, it is only right to thank the many married couples in our Europe who still say 'yes' to children today and accept the trials that this entails: social and financial problems, as well as worries and struggles, day after day; the dedication required to give children access to the path towards the future. In mentioning these difficulties, perhaps the reasons also become clearer why for many the risk of having children appears too great.

"A child need loving attention. This means that we must give children some of our time, the time of our life. But precisely this 'raw material' of life--time--seems to be ever scarcer. The time we have available barely suffices for our own lives; how could we surrender it, give it to someone else? To have time and to give time--this is for us a very concrete way to learn to give oneself, to lose oneself in order to find oneself.

"In addition to this problem comes the difficult calculation: what rules should we apply to ensure that the child follows the right path and in so doing, how should we respect his or her freedom? The problem has also become very difficult because we are no longer sure of the norms to transmit; because we no longer know what the correct use of freedom is, what is the correct way to live, what is morally correct and what instead is inadmissible.

"The modern spirit has lost its bearings, and this lack of bearings prevents us from being indicators of the right way to others. Indeed, the problem goes even deeper. Contemporary man is insecure about the future [without hope!]. Is it permissible to send someone into this uncertain future? In short, is it a good thing to be a person? This deep lack of self assurance--plus the wish to have one's whole life for oneself--is perhaps the deepest reason why the risk of having children appears to many to be almost unsustainable. In fact, we can transmit life in a responsible way only if we are able to pass on something more than mere biological life, and that is, a meaning that prevails even in the crises of history to come and a certainty in the hope that is stronger than the clouds that obscure the future.

"Unless we learn anew the foundations of life--unless we discover in a new way the certainty of faith--it will be less and less possible for us to entrust to others the gift of life and the task of an unknown future.

"Connected with that, finally, is also the problem of definitive decisions: can man bind himself for ever? Can he say a 'yes' for his whole life? Yes, he can. He was created for this. In this very way human freedom is brought about and thus the sacred context of marriage [which is by nature monogamous and heterosexual] is also created and enlarged, becoming a family and building the future."[1]

The truth is that the present world is very unstable and unreliable and is will fail us. It is not reasonable to put one's faith in the passing world, because everything on earth is passing and only God and His love lasts. An Italian Renaissance poem offers many poetic images for the limits and earthly life, which deceptively promises perfection.

"Our mortal life seems like...
...a show,
a display of vanity;
a beautiful garment which covers the deformities of a sick body,
a grassy meadow which hides among its green weeds a poisonous serpent.

"...a narrow field but full of hard stones,
a thick wood, but full of sharp thorns,
a shady mountain, but full of towering rocks
and altogether a great forest, but full of savage beasts.

"...[A] dark valley of tears,
a fountain barren of thoughts,
a river turbid with tears,
a stormy sea of troubles.

"...[L]ike a bubble in water which soon bursts,
like vapor in the air which soon vanishes,
and like the flower that suddenly withers on the hedge.

"...I compare it to an old house that threatens to collapse in ruins,
to a high tower built on the sand,
to a tree full of branches but without roots.

"...[It's] like a boat without a helm,
old age without a cane,
a horse without reigns
and a blind man without a guide.

"...[It can be likened to] confused order,
to tormented calm,
to ineffectual toil,
to good ailing health
and to poor wealth.

"...[D]eformed beauty,
infamous honor,
eager ambition,
precipitous height
and an obscure nobility.

"...[A] sack [riddled] with holes,
a cracked jar,
a dirty mirror,
a broken glass,

"...a golden fish hook with bait,
a sharp piercing dart,
a sour apple that disgusts
and a cup of intoxicating wine.

"...[A] journey full of traps,
a city full of strife,
a divided kingdom,
a tyrannical principality,
an irksome pilgrimage.

"...[A] castle in the air,
a ship in the sea,
a mist before the sun,
and a passing wind that does not return.

"...[A] deep whirlpool where many drown,
a narrow sea where many are in peril,
an ocean without a port where one passes at great risk.

"...[A] cave of serpents,
a den of thieves,
a lair of assassins,
a haven for evil doers.

"...[A] city square full of noise,
a winding street full of pitfalls,
and an old wall full of crevices.

"...[A] yoke that is not soft,
a heavy burden,
and a strong chain.

"...[I]t is pitch that defiles,
mud that sticks,
dust that blinds.

"...[A] sandy desert,
a horrid wilderness,
an uninhabitable country.

"...[I]t changes like the moon,
it passes like a mailman, turns like a wheel.

"...[I]t is a city of blood,
a lusting after the flesh,
satisfaction for the eyes
and arrogant pride in the heart.

"...[The] love of madmen,
the desire of the wicked,
the pleasure of the sensualists.

"...[A] a poorly stocked table,
a leaking cistern,
a hard bed
and an empty coffer.

"...[A] singing mermaid,
an enticing whore,
a spell casting sorcerer.

"...[L]aughing grief,
weeping laughter,
complaining contentment.

"...[A] lying life,
a dead life,
a breathing death,
a hell of the living.

"...[A] funeral of living bodies,
a headlong race to death,
a noble show of pomp that is given to the worms.

"...[I]n fact all the vilest names and titles can be applied to this worldly life and they will all suit it excellently well.

"Now, so many people hold this worldly life in high esteem and enjoy it to such a point that they would rather never die because their sins have dimmed their sight and placed a veil before their eyes so that they cannot understand the truth of things. And therefore, mistaking the false for the true and evil for good, they stray into error. And meanwhile, Death overtakes them and carries them off to where they find nothing in hand but wind, with torment and grief.

"Men who live thus are most unhappy, since they sleep securely in so dangerous an error. How much better for them if once they could awake from such a deadly stupor.

"How much benefit it would be to people if they looked beyond the surface, beyond the misfortunes and imperfections of this life of deceit! Because by becoming too attached to its false beauties they fall into and do not see the tortures of Hell and the cruel arms of Death." [2]

Spe salvi is the Holy Father's post-enlightenment presentation of the same failed world to men showing them the inherent imperfection and limits and corruption with the world and especially within man, from which only Christ can free us.

Would that man should seek the deep meaning of life. Would that men should seek God. Would that men should find Jesus Christ, recognize and repent of their sins and receive His mercy: the Love of God in the Blood of Jesus. Would that men should begin to live in God , and thus really LIVE!

[1] Benedict XVI Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2006

[2] Emilio de'Cavalieri (1550-1602), from the introductory dialogue to the oratorio "Rappresentatione di Anima et di Corpo", February 1660 production, Rome.
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